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I Hear Ya, Sister. (And You, Too.)

This week on mom.me, I was asked to write about the passing of the California vaccine bill, which has been a huge source of controversy in my home state.

For those unfamiliar, Governor Brown signed a bill earlier this week that would prevent unvaccinated children from attending school.

Under the proposal, if a parent chooses to not vaccinate their child, the parent would have to home-school their child, participate in a multifamily private home-school or use public school independent study that's administered by local education agencies, according to Pan and co-sponsor Sen. Ben Allen, former board president of the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District.

According to the website Vaccinate California, "The current rate of vaccination in too many of California's schools is below the level needed for 'herd immunity' — the critical percentage needed to prevent small outbreaks from spreading and become epidemics."

Los Angeles is so notorious for its anti-vaxxers that articles have even appeared in Entertainment insider publications like The Hollywood Reporter:

Whether it's measles or pertussis, the local children statistically at the greatest risk for infection aren't, as one might imagine, the least privileged — far from it. An examination by The Hollywood Reporter of immunization records submitted to the state by educational facilities suggests that wealthy Westside kids — particularly those attending exclusive, entertainment-industry-favored child care centers, preschools and kindergartens — are far more likely to get sick (and potentially infect their siblings and playmates) than other kids in L.A. The reason is at once painfully simple and utterly complex: More parents in this demographic are choosing not to vaccinate their children as medical experts advise. They express their noncompliance by submitting a form known as a personal belief exemption (PBE) instead of paperwork documenting a completed shot schedule.

The number of PBEs being filed is scary. The region stretching from Malibu south to Marina del Rey and inland as far as La Cienega Boulevard (and including Santa Monica, Pacific Palisades, Brentwood, West Hollywood and Beverly Hills) averaged a 9.1 percent PBE level among preschoolers for the 2013-14 school year — a 26 percent jump from two years earlier. By comparison, L.A. County at large measured 2.2 percent in that period. Many preschools in this area spiked far higher, including Kabbalah Children's Academy in Beverly Hills (57 percent) and the Waldorf Early Childhood Center in Santa Monica (68 percent). According to World Health Organization data, such numbers are in line with immunization rates in developing countries like Chad and South Sudan ...

Via the L.A. Times:

The incidence of measles reached a 20-year high in the United States this year, with California reporting the second-largest number of cases at 61. Orange County was hardest hit, with 22 reported cases. Of 42 cases for which the state has immunization data, 26 were unvaccinated, said Scott Sandow, a spokesman for the California Department of Public Health. The state also is experiencing a whooping cough, or pertussis, epidemic, with more than 7,500 cases this year.

"We have schools in California where the percent of children who exercise the personal belief exemption is well above 50 percent," said Dr. Gil Chavez, deputy director of the California Department of Public Health's Center for Infectious Diseases. "That's going to be a challenge for any disease that is vaccine preventable."

I think we can all agree that this is a problem. I would hope we would all agree.

Because it isn't JUST about YOUR children or MY children, it's about OUR community of children. Of course every parent wants what's best for their child, but it would do us all a service of good to want what's best for our neighbor's child as well. It takes a village to keep a community safe, healthy and alive and this bill, in my opinion, protects the community, which I appreciate. It puts community health before individual concerns and here in California, someone's got to.

A few quick notes on my vaccination stance:

1. My mother was not vaccinated because of her father's personal beliefs. She developed polio and almost died. My mother's grandmother was ADAMANT that my mother not be vaccinated. She was extremely anti-vaccination and scared my grandmother by saying "if she got polio because of the vaccination, it's on your head." So my mother wasn't vaccinated. And then, at age 2, she contracted polio and almost died. She now walks with an inch-and-a-half leg difference, a small price to pay compared to most polio survivors.

2. I have worked with Shot @ Life and have advocated for vaccinations on behalf the UN Foundation and ONE and will continue to do so. Vaccines save billions of lives worldwide and those lives include those of our children, here. THANK YOU, VACCINES!

3. My children are all fully vaccinated. We have an incredible pediatrician who I trust wholeheartedly. (She even does house calls, how cool is that?)

4. I cannot personally fathom why any parent would ignore science and logic and take advantage of his/her community while simultaneously putting them at risk. Because not immunizing your kids (for personal/religious beliefs) puts other children at risk. It just does.

That (and everything else said), I have to admit, this whole vaccine bill scares me a little. It scares me to see my governor play parent to our state's parents. (Even if I wholeheartedly disagree with them.) I have always erred on the side of question everything and I get a bit twitchy thinking of ANYONE being stripped of their right to choose what is right for their children. That said, I do not feel twitchy when someone is stripped of a right to choose what infringes on someone else's child's rights. And that is kind of where I am today. I have friends who do not vaccinate and they will always be my friends, and I understand if/why they feel slighted and pissed off because of Brown's ruling.

I get it.

I don't blindly trust the government either, guys. But you know what? I appreciate that shit is nuanced and complicated and there are plenty of folks trying to fight the good fight. I have seen bad doctors and good and can tell you stories from both sides. I can tell you to "always trust your doctor" and "trust no one ever the world is ending ahhhhh" because I have experienced both sides of the coin and I get it. I also happen to come from a family of loving scientists and doctors who care about the welfare of children. And I don't know a single one that takes an anti-vaccination stance.

And so, while I understand the anti-vaxxer frustration, I also recognize the importance of this bill. And if I had to pick a side, it would be Team Brown. Reluctantly, sure, but there you have it.

I am frustrated that it had to get to this point, but here we are — instating bills in order to maintain herd immunity and protect our children and communities.

(I recently wrote a slew of posts about putting almonds in my kids' lunches, which I did up until many of you pointed out that I was putting other children's lives in danger. Our school did not have a no-nut policy when I wrote those posts so it was never an issue. But I learned a lot about why nut-free schools are a thing and why it's important to be cautious when it comes to serving my kids nuts in a public setting. Because it isn't JUST about them eating nuts. And it would be selfish of me to disregard the health risks of others.)

So, yes, for those of you reading who live in the state of California, who — for whatever reason — have not immunized your kids, I understand why you are angry and frustrated and disgusted with Governor Brown. I understand why you feel that it is your child and therefore YOUR choice to make. I hear you. And I want to better understand you. I do. But I also hope that you will recognize that the reason this law passed is because it had to. Because fear has become an epidemic. Because over the past ten years, I have watched parents care less and less for the village and more and more for the self. And we have reached the point where something, for better and for worse, must be done.

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